Ritual and Repetition

Jon Shumway
March 1, 2007, 12:07 am
Filed under: Ritual and Repetition


Upgrade: Cyborg Ascending a Staircase, 2001
3:14 mins
Jon Shumway – Slippery Rock Pennsylvania


Upgrade: Cyborg Ascending a Staircase explores the general concept of progress as it is represented through the technological manipulation of the physical human form. Technologies, according to Marshall McLuhan, function as extensions of humanity into the environment. Thus, technology serves to blur the physical boundary that separates us from the environment. In Upgrade: Cyborg Ascending a Staircase these extensions are turned inward as we, in essence physically united with our own technological creations.

As a species, we are engaged in a continuing and increasingly grand scale physical alteration of our own form. In fact, the body has been altered to some extent for much of human history. In society where technological advancement and superiority are highly valued, such developments are generally viewed progressively. The term “upgrade” is frequently used in relation to the concepts of “progress” and “advancement.” We upgrade a piece of equipment by altering or adding to it in an effort to make something better than it was previously.

The body is manipulated in numerous ways. Chemicals are introduced into the body for medicinal purposes. Surgical procedures physically alter the body’s form. The human genetic code is being mapped, placing the potential for its’ manipulation within reach. While the possibilities for robotic or digital implants, which are still in the realm of science fiction, are being explored and researched. These manipulative activities serve to demonstrate a pattern of action that is reflective of ritualistic concerns centered on the concept of progress and the continuous improvement of the human form.

The utilization of a sequence of Eadweard Muybridge photographs to create the stair climbing motion of the figure makes reference to an historically significant infusion of mechanical technology into the production of artistic images. Similarly, the title Upgrade: Cyborg Ascending a Staircase along with the movement of the figure in the work makes reference to Marcel Duchamp and his painting Nude Ascending a Staircase. Duchamp, as the originator of the “readymade,” drew into question the very conception of “Art” and what constitutes it. This questioning resulted in Art’s opening up to new conceptual and media-based possibilities. These “upgrades,” opened the door for the inclusion of non-traditional technologies into the art making process and forever changed the way art is perceived and understood. Similarly, ongoing transformations to the human body are changing the way the human form is perceived and understood.


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